02/04/2005 1:00AM

Stricter limits for drugs proposed in Kentucky


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Kentucky Equine Drug Council voted 6-1 on Friday to recommend that the state adopt a medication policy that will significantly limit the number of drugs that can be given to a horse on race day.

The policy would allow only two drugs to be administered, the diuretic Lasix and the blood-clotting drug Amicar.

The recommendation, which was adopted despite strong objections from the council member representing the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, will be sent to the council's governing body, the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, for final approval. Many of the 15 authority members have already indicated that they support the recommendation, in part because of a call earlier this year from Gov. Ernie Fletcher for the state to adopt stricter drug policies.

The recommendation is another in a series of steps taken by Kentucky over the last six years to tighten medication policies, which are considered the most liberal in the country. Council members who supported the recommendation said the changes would bring Kentucky in line with other states, improve the perception of Kentucky's racing product among horsemen and horseplayers, and minimize the risks to horses who receive medications that potentially mask injuries.

"We've been supporting this all along," said David Switzer, the executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, which represents owners and trainers in Kentucky. "We're glad to see the drug council take this step."

The council members who voted for the recommendation were John Ward, a trainer; Alice Chandler, the owner of Mill Ridge Farm; Alan Leavitt and William Napier, Standardbred owners and trainers; State Sen. Damon Thayer; and Connie Whitfield, the chairwoman of the council. Susan Bunning, representing the horsemen's group, was the only member to oppose the recommendation.

The KHBPA has consistently opposed any effort to tighten medication rules. Bunning told council members that the state should not adopt rules that have no scientific basis and called for the council to instead fund research on medications before voting on any new rules. The other council members disregarded Bunning's call.

The new rules follow the ones recommended by a national task force called the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. The task force, which includes representatives from more than 50 racing organizations, has developed a long list of model rules over the past three years. The model rules dealing with race-day medication have been passed in 17 different states so far, according to Jim Gallagher, the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority.

The rules allow for the administration of Lasix on race day. Lasix is used to treat bleeding in the lungs although its efficacy and role in preventing such bleeding has not been scientifically established.

The new rules would have a significant impact on the administration of the most controversial race-day medications in Kentucky, the so-called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, and the powerful anti-inflammatory corticosterorids.

It is currently legal in Kentucky to administer phenylbutazone and one NSAID from a list of four other approved drugs. The two most commonly used NSAIDs from the list are Banamine, considered the most powerful painkiller on the market for horses, and ketoprofen.

No state other than Massachusetts allows horsemen to administer any NSAID on race day. Massachusetts allows phenylbutazone, the mildest NSAID available, to be administered four hours prior to a race.

Kentucky currently allows one corticosteroid from a list of four to be given four hours before a race. The new rules would prohibit any corticosteroid from being administered on race day. Along with anti-inflammatory effects, corticosteroids, which are injected into joints, applied topically, or ingested orally, raise a horse's blood-sugar level.

The rules recommended by the national task force have a loophole that would apply to Kentucky regarding the use of adjunct bleeder medications. Because of differences among many racing states over the use of four diverse medications intended to control bleeding in conjunction with Lasix, the task force rule allows such adjunct drugs to continue to be used in states where they are legal for the next two years while research is conducted to study the efficacy of the drugs. Kentucky allows for the use of Amicar as an adjunct bleeder medication.

Marty Maline, the executive director of the KHBPA, said that the vote had been stacked against his group's position ever since the membership of the Equine Drug Council was decided late last year. He said that he had asked the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority's chairman, William Street, to ensure that the KHBPA will have a chance to reiterate its positions in front of the full authority, which meets on Feb. 22.

"He assured us that we will have our opportunity to appear and present evidence in front of the racing authority," Maline said, "and they will give us every opportunity to have a full and open discussion about the lack of scientific data."